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Eagles struggle with parenthood

Jun 05 2012
Two eagle chicks, believed to be the first in B.C. to hatch in captivity, share a meal at the Raptor Centre near Duncan after their squabbling parents separated 

Two eagle chicks, believed to be the first in B.C. to hatch in captivity, share a meal at the Raptor Centre near Duncan after their squabbling parents separated

Photograph by: Raptor Centre , ...

New babies can be super-tough on a relationship.

Just ask Hank and Shaya, who are now spending time apart, leaving Hank struggling with the role of single dad.

The two bald eagles lived happily together for two years at The Raptors, a raptor education centre in North Cowichan.

Then came two eggs and, to the delight of staff, two chicks hatched about one month ago.

“We believe these are the first bald eagle babies hatched in captivity in B.C.,” general manager Robyn Radcliffe said.

But Shaya was not so thrilled with motherhood.

“The pressures and frustrations of dealing with their new charges spilled over into squabbles that quickly escalated,” Radcliffe said.

Shaya, who is 30 per cent bigger than her mate, started beating up on him. Hank, who suffered some injuries, had to be pulled out of the enclosure.

“And she had spent so much time beating him up, she was not sitting on her chicks,” Radcliffe said.

After staff consulted with specialists around the world, the two chicks were removed from the aviary and put in a brooder.

A week later, an attempt was made to appeal to Shaya’s maternal instinct and the larger chick was placed on the nest ledge, but when the chick started to get cold, with Shaya steadfastly ignoring it, the baby had to be returned to the brooder.

Staff hand-reared the chicks for the next couple of weeks and then set up a new living arrangement with Dad.

“Hank feeds alongside the chicks and shows his progeny all his cool bald eagle moves,” Radcliffe said.

“He’s not feeding them, so we feed them through a hatch, and he’s learning how to be a parent,” she said.

Fish, quail and rabbit form the basic diet.

“Man, they eat so much food,” Radcliffe said.

Both parents were bred in captivity, but as birds at the centre have extensive freedom, it is unlikely that has anything to do with the family problems, Radcliffe said.

“It likely happens in the wild as well,” she said.

Radcliffe said she does not believe Shaya is a bad mother and hopes things will work out differently next time.

“Maybe she had just pulled some all-nighters. I am a new parent and I can sympathize with her. She did feed them for a couple of days,” she said.

Radcliffe is hoping that, once the chicks fledge, they eventually will be able to join the centre’s flying team.

“The birds fly free and then come home,” she said.

“It inspires people to learn more about these birds.”

Flying demonstrations, with bald eagles, hawks and falcons, are held at the centre on Herd Road in Duncan and at Church and State Winery in Central Saanich.

Birds from the centre also are used for bird control in areas such as vineyards and airports.

“Some of our birds are in Winnipeg, chasing gulls off the landfill. Our birds have jobs,” Radcliffe said.

Although the chicks are doing well and appear robust, they will not be named until they fledge as there is a high mortality rate among young raptors.

jlavoie@timescolonist.com

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